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More Than We Can Stomach

Adapted from RET's remarks delivered last night at The American Spectator’s annual Robert L. Bartley Dinner.

By 10.24.13

Twenty thirteen was a distressing year. The President handed the foreign policy of the United States over to the KGB. Who knows, perhaps next year he will hand over domestic policy to Monaco.

Nevertheless, 2012 was no blowout. We have firm control of the House, and a good shot at the Senate next year. We have 54 percent of the state legislatures and 60 percent of the governors’ mansions. Finally we are poised to take the White House in 2016 with appealing candidates ranging from New Jersey to Wisconsin, from Florida to Texas, all of them smart, experienced, principled, articulate, and even telegenic.

Who are the liberals’ candidates? So far, there are just two.  There’s good old Joe Biden, with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. He would be my candidate for bartender at the New York Athletic Club, very, very affable but not for president. As vice president he committed so many amusing gaffes that he inspired in me a new word, “gaffable.” Our gaffable vice president has been described by Roger Ailes as being “dumb as an ashtray”—a memorable comparison.

Then there is Hillary. When last she left the White House the polls indicated that she was the most unpopular first lady in history. Next to Hillary, Mrs. Warren Harding was pulchritudinous and agreeable. Facts are facts. Yet in 2008 her friends in the media made Hillary the Inevitable Nominee until the Democrats had another candidate. Now she is again the Inevitable Nominee. Yet the pollsters are still polling and most recently the Rasmussen Poll found her the least desirable Democratic candidate. She even out-polled Joe Biden. Presented with the choice of Hillary or Joe, the voters chose an ashtray.

As many of you will recall, The American Spectator--always hostile to bad taste in high places--went to war with the Clintons. At the outset of their bad taste in high places we revealed Hillary taking a tax write-off on Bill’s underwear. That is a fact, now filed away in the annals of history, and the revelations kept coming. None more consequential than Miss Paula Corbin Jones. To which the Democrats responded with the first War on Women, the real War on Women: Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Monica Lewinsky, and so many more. It is our boast that we started the Clinton Wars, and when the last shot was fired we were still standing.

We took on the Clintons, head to head, and it was a little like Rhode Island declaring war on Red China.  They came at us with all they had. What they had was considerable -- the whole federal bureaucracy. There was the IRS, the Justice Department, possibly even the Library of Congress. Finally we looked out of our foxholes and glimpsed most of the major media lobbing propaganda shells at us.

The Clintons, I wrote then, “were holy people. They opposed  the Vietnam War, the imperial presidency, racism. They could do no wrong.” And when we got the goods on them -- as history has shown we did -- they responded by unloosing an unprecedented barrage against a harmless little literary magazine – a barrage that was, as one reporter for the Chicago Tribune put it, “largely embraced by official Washington and its solicitous press corps.”

We took a pounding, like a sloop challenging the Spanish Armada. But the barrage ended. The smoke lifted. And we were still there, running up our sails, ready to continue the battle.  Right now, just over the near political horizon, there’s another engagement shaping up and we shall be there.

Not long ago, I thought my days of writing about the Clintons and their syndicate had come to an end. Surely, I thought, with Boy Clinton, The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, Madame Hillary, and The Clinton Crack-Up, I’d done my book-writing duty.

But now, it appears, there will be one last shootout. It will be fierce. But to some extent, at least, the odds won’t be so greatly weighted against us. It’s still a battle, but no longer quite as one-sided.

Over the past four decades -- in fact, dating back to the birth of The American Spectator -- we’ve been involved in building an alternative to the once-unchallenged Kultursmog. We have helped shape and define  the conservative movement.

At the Spectator we believed, along with Bill Buckley and Frank Meyer at National Review, Bob Bartley at the Wall Street Journal, and other conservative thinkers, that we could build that movement most effectively by bringing all strands of conservative thought together in our various publications. 

Our ranks grew steadily over those years, with our pages hospitable to conservatives of all stripes -- neocons, paleocons, libertarians, old-school Scoop-Jackson Democrats, as well as conservative writers and thinkers from across the globe. Come on in, we said. We’re one big tent. One big movement. One big party. And come in they did.

In the process, The American Spectator became a literary and political journal second to none. A position it continues to occupy in a rapidly shrinking universe. And it became a literary boot camp, the training ground where conservative writers like George Will and Andy Ferguson first made their bones and Bill Kristol, and, of course, Bill McGurn. Today the mastheads of the nation’s conservative publications are stocked with graduates of our American Spectator boot camp.

That process continues today, with smart, talented young writers and thinkers still being trained at the Spectator and sent out to do the Lord’s work -- and to do so with style, discipline, and intellectual integrity. I’d match our young staff with any at work in opinion journalism anywhere today. And when the time comes for that defining political and ideological clash just down the road, they’ll be ready.

Make no mistake. It’s going to be a bloody battle. Our opponents have the corner on the money supply. They outspend conservatism by ten to one. They have what they call clout. In media and in government. But like so many lazy and self-satisfied members of the intelligentsia, they’re old, fat, tired -- teetering on the brink of moral, intellectual, and fiscal bankruptcy. As I wrote last year in The Death of Liberalism, Crony Capitalism has taken Liberalism’s place. But against the forces of liberty Crony Capitalism’s days are numbered.

Crony Capitalists still have reflexive support in the media. But the times are changing rapidly.  The Washington Post has been sold, the first step in extinction. And somewhere Kay Graham is crying, and Richard Nixon is grinning. Newsweek is down the drain. Time magazine is a wasteland. The New York Times is struggling editorially under the inept leadership of the son of “Punch” Sulzberger, appropriately nicknamed “Pinch” Sulzberger. Consider the space the editorial page of the Times recently devoted to the sexuality of Pfc. Bradley Manning, not to his criminal act, not to his treasonous state of mind, but to his sexuality! After Manning was sentenced to the brig at Fort Leavenworth, he suddenly announced he “had felt female from childhood.” He wanted to be a woman named Chelsea.  Such are liberalism’s heroes nowadays. (It could have been worse. Manning could have chosen to be called Hillary. )

I pause to mention the Times’ treatment of Manning to spotlight the mindset of our journalistic opposition: total ethical and moral confusion, with a commensurate loss of any sense of what’s important, proportionate, or fit for discussion in what still purports to be a great newspaper.

The paper, like the philosophy of contemporary liberalism, has hit the wall.  And that’s why the hottest new game in town is called “Waiting for Rupert.” It’s this collapse of any coherent center. The inability to accept or understand the old established verities and values, while desperately searching for meaning in the sort of trendy and immoral nonsense that has contributed to the collapse of so many established media icons. This is true across the media spectrum. No longer do great numbers of people take seriously pundits or newsreaders on the old networks. In fact, today there’s as much brain and lung power on Fox as on all the others combined. And in fact, Fox has pioneered a revolutionary new concept -- smart and attractive women can read the news just as well as mustachioed old goats, and gain much larger viewerships in the process. (There’s Roger Ailes, thinking again.) 

I’ve frequently tried to trace the decline of liberalism to its present condition of nihilism and corruption. And as I’ve written before, I discovered that one milestone in that process of decline occurred in the summer of 1969, when Senator Edward Kennedy took a wrong turn off Chappaquiddick Bridge, with significant collateral damage.

The subsequent brazening-out and covering up of a clear-cut crime would have ended the political career of any previous politician. Before Chappaquiddick it would have been unthinkable for the perpetrator to have escaped justice. Teddy Kennedy’s escape gave birth to what I have dubbed the Chappaquiddick Dispensation. The Chappaquiddick Dispensation was eventually extended to an extraordinary generation of roués and airheads who have fouled modern politics and given rise to a crisis of leadership in the Democratic Party. Look around the country. The leadership of the Democratic Party is today utterly corrupt when it is not utterly juvenile.

But the tide is rising on our side. There is a wealth of thought and opinion among young people on our side, running from libertarian to neocon to paleocon, with unusual combinations of conservative thought and theory mixed in.

They want no part of a liberal nanny state. Nor do they want anything to do with a conservative daddy state. These are serious young people, more plentiful than I’ve seen since the early days of the Young American for Freedom and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Just look at the younger contributors to The American Spectator, or to the other journals of the right -- the Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review.

There’s an energy, vitality, and seriousness there. A determination to restore the basic principles of honesty, decency, morality, and economic common sense to our government. They want nothing more than to be allowed to live what they believe is the American dream.

Let’s help them live it.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.